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Net zero? University of Illinois lands $3.5 million to study carbon capture at Gary Works steel mill

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University of Illinois lands $3.5 million to study carbon capture at Gary Works steel mill

U.S. Steel's Gary Works is shown.

The University of Illinois landed a $3.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to study carbon capture at U.S. Steel's Gary Works as part of an "aggressive decarbonization" push to fight climate change.

The United States Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory chose the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Prairie Research Institute for a research project on new technologies aimed at removing carbon dioxide from the ambient air around the integrated steel mill. Gary Works burns coke to forge iron while making the steel that goes into cars, washing machines and countless other products.

The university will study a new direct air capture and utilization system larger than any existing system. If successful, it should be able to remove 5,000 metric tons per year of CO2 from the air and turn it into concrete products.

“We’re excited to bring together a strong team of academic and industry collaborators to accelerate effective, economical carbon capture and use,” said Dr. Kevin O'Brien, the project’s principal investigator and leader of PRI’s Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

CarbonCapture Inc. developed the direct air capture technology that will be tested. It will use the steel mill's existing waste heat and energy to minimize energy and transportation costs and make it more cost-efficient.

“U.S. Steel is committed to progressing our efforts described in our Climate Strategy Report to decarbonize and accelerate towards a lower carbon future, but we know that one company’s actions are not enough,” said Rich Fruehauf, senior vice president and chief strategy and sustainability officer at U.S. Steel. “Achieving our goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is going to take unprecedented innovation and collaboration.”

After CO2 emissions are captured from the air around Gary Works, the liquified gas would be taken to Ozinga ready mix concrete plants nearby. 

Ozinga, which has operations in Gary and across Chicagoland, will inject the CO2 into the concrete while it is being mixed, locking it away so it never returns to the atmosphere.

“Permanent CO2 storage is a crucial component of carbon removal. As the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear, the permanent storage of ‘centuries or more’ that carbon mineralization in concrete provides is a critical component of durable carbon removal,” said Robert Niven, chair and CEO of CarbonCure Technologies. “CarbonCure is excited to contribute to this crucial research to help scale the solutions we need to ensure our climate future.”

The feds said the technology could play a major role in "aggressive decarbonization in combatting the climate crisis."

“Ozinga’s purpose is to make a positive impact, and embracing innovation in concrete sustainability is key to ensuring a better environment for generations to come,” said Ryan Cialdella, vice president of innovation and market development at Ozinga. “We believe early collaboration is important to find the best solution for reduction of carbon emissions, and our development and testing of lower embodied CO2 mix designs has made participating in this important study a great fit.”

Visage Energy Corp. will assess the findings of the study to determine what effect it will have on jobs, the economy and social justice. It's part of a global effort by governments, businesses and other stakeholders to attain net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“We’re very excited about participating in this groundbreaking study,” said Adrian Corless, CEO of CarbonCapture Inc. “Direct air capture is particularly effective when energy costs can be reduced via the use of waste heat and the captured CO2 can be permanently stored in concrete. At scale, we think this solution will lead to the removal of massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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